About Grant Montgomery

Grant Montgomery is co-founder of Family Care Foundation (FCF), a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for communities, families and children in 50 countries.

North Korea talks sans Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired on Twitter after returning from an Africa trip in which he was out of the loop on North Korean talks and contradicted the White House position on Russia’s responsibility for poisoning a former double agent in the United Kingdom.

Tillerson had engaged with North Korea even when the president said — again via Twitter — that he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

Now, Trump is heading into an unprecedented face-to-face meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un over that country’s nuclear program. The timing of Tillerson’s dismissal was designed to allow Trump to put a new team in place in advance of those talks, said a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a personnel decision.

Trump’s new nominee to head the State Department is CIA director Mike Pompeo, a hard-liner on Iran and North Korea who is much more in line with Trump’s more militant instincts.

[USA Today]

North Korean defector artist Sun Mu

Trained as a propaganda artist in his native North Korea, Sun Mu felt that there was little else he wanted to do.

In the late 90s, during a mass famine that by some estimates killed three million people, Sun Mu made his escape by crossing the Tumen river into China, before heading south. Free from the constraints of the dictatorship, he started painting again, and eventually discovered his own style. He began producing satirical works. “My work, what I call ‘my propaganda’, does contain criticism of the regime. But it also contains a lot of my thoughts, my hopes for the future in images.”

Sun Mu still clings to hope, especially at a time when many observers are cynical about a North-South detente: “If both sides have the will, there will be a way.”

But he is critical of excessive foreign interference. “It’s a pity that several heads of state are using this reunion for their own political gains, to please their electorates… I’m just sick and tired of the US, Russia, China and Japan…”

The red paint represents the blood that these “leaders” — also the name of the painting — have on their hands.

Sun Mu ends the conversation by comparing his own country’s leadership to that of the US: “Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un are not so different. I think if they came face to face, they would actually get along.”

[France 24]

7 things to understand about Trump talks with North Korea

President Trump has accepted North Korea’s invitation for direct talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to be held by May. Seven things to consider:

  1. Short-term, it reduces the risk of war.
  2. Mismatched signals may have set up the talks to fail. – Usually, before high-level talks like these, both sides spend a long time telegraphing their expected outcomes. That is not really how things have proceeded with the United States and North Korea. Mr. Trump has already committed to granting North Korea one of its most desired concessions: a high-level meeting between the heads of state. Further, Mr. Trump has declared “denuclearization” as his minimal acceptable outcome for talks, making it harder for him to accept a more modest (but more achievable!) outcome and costlier for him to walk away. The North Koreans can walk away more freely, while the Americans will be more desperate to come home with some sort of win. It’s a formulation that puts the Americans at significant disadvantage before talks even begin.
  3. The sides do not agree on the point of talking. – Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based analyst, writes in a column in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that “denuclearization” means vastly different things to the United States and North Korea. Americans understand the word as describing North Korea’s full nuclear disarmament, which is very difficult to imagine happening. But North Koreans, she writes, tend to mean it as a kind of mutual and incremental disarmament in which the United States also gives up weapons.
  4. The Trump administration has gotten the process backward. – It’s practically an axiom of international diplomacy that you only bring heads of state together at the very end of talks, after lower-level officials have done the dirty work. Victor Cha, a well-respected North Korea expert, warns in a New York Times Op-Ed essay, “Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy.”
  5. The State Department is in a shambles, with no American ambassador to South Korea, or undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
  6. Everything could turn on President Trump’s personality. Talks and their outcome will be determined, to an unprecedented degree, by Mr. Trump’s personal biases and impulses. By his mood at the time of talks. By his particular style of negotiation.
  7. North Korea has already achieved a symbolic victory. – For North Korea, high-level talks are a big win in their own right. Kim Jong-un seeks to transform his country from a rogue pariah into an established nuclear power, a peer to the United States, a player on the international stage. This wins Mr. Kim international acknowledgment and heightened status, as well as significant domestic credibility.

[Read full New York Times opinion]

A North Korean’s unexpected challenges in the South: Ditching the accent

When Ken Eom fled North Korea in 2010 to South Korea, he was astonished by how much a shared Korean language and culture had split after decades of war and division. Not only did this free and modern Korea look different than the only Korea he ever knew, the language in the South sounded at times bewildering.

His Northern inflection struck his co-Koreans as foreign, a telltale sign that also led to problems in the South. “I could understand maybe 70 per cent” of the Korean conversations on the streets of Seoul, Eom, 37, said recently in an interview at an English school in the South Korean capital. “But on the different side, the South Koreans couldn’t understand me! They couldn’t understand our language.”

Unless a defector spent time living near Pyongyang or another city close to South Korea’s border, Eom said, a Northern accent — faster, more clipped and with a “spiky, up-down” intonation — could be so thick that South Koreans would have trouble picking up half the speaker’s words.

Ostensibly safe in the South, Eom found himself contending with accent discrimination. Eom recalled phoning a gas station to inquire about job openings. The prospective employer, detecting an accent, cut him off and asked if Eom was from China. “I said, ‘Uh, I’m not Chinese people. I’m actually North Korean,'” Eom said. The gas station manager made it clear he wasn’t interested.

It’s common among defectors in their 20s and 30s to try to erase any traces of their North Korean backgrounds upon arriving to South Korea, in an effort to neutralize potential stigma associated with being raised in the regime, said Eom, now a graduate student studying policy analysis at Korea University.


South Korea to send envoy to North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is sending a special envoy to North Korea, following Pyongyang’s successful participation in the Winter Olympics.

It appears to be in direct response to a personal invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered by his sister Kim Yo Jong during her visit to the South for the Games last month.

Moon doesn’t seem to be preparing for a personal trip above the demilitarized zone (DMZ) just yet, but sending an envoy to Pyongyang would be an important first step.

Multiple North Korean officials met with their South Korean counterparts before Kim’s Olympic trip last month in the first face-to-face meetings between the Koreas in almost two years in January.

Concerns about the Trump administration’s policy towards Pyongyang were also raised this week with the departure of Joseph Yun, the top US State Department for North Korea, who was widely seen as a voice for diplomatic engagement in contrast to the increasingly hawkish National Security Council.


North Korean defector’s reflections on the Olympics

Last week, Park Ui-Song, a thirty-year-old, took a break from his university classes in Seoul to travel to the Gangneung Ice Arena to watch some Olympic competitions. Park, who asked that his name be changed to protect the identity of his family that remains in North Korea, shared the following reaction:

I was hoping that [the outcome might be] starting a dialogue, that sort of humanizing theme would come through. Practically, the North Korean leaders have the power to improve the North-South relationship. I hate them, but they can bring change. So I also kept a close eye on the North Korean leaders like Kim Yo Jong [Kim Jong-Un’s sister] and South Korea President Moon Jae-in. I had a lot of hope and expectation when they showed each other what I thought looked like respect. I want reunification, even though many in the generation below me do not. Of course, I have a family that I’d like to see.

But watching the cheerleaders in particular—actually, watching the media watching the cheerleaders—and seeing how much attention the media gave them and how they were received was disappointing. Their actions weren’t natural. They looked like dolls. Or like actors in a play. And yes, they were very much playing their roles, but I struggled with how the rest of the world was so enamored with them and their looking like robots. At the hockey game [between North Korea and Switzerland], they yelled slogans about unity and sang old Korean folk tunes. They chanted We are one! There might be a desire to unify but it’s not their real intention. The chanting is an order. I do feel sorry for them because they are victims of a dictatorship. They are being used as a tool.

I wish the global audience could separate the North Korean regime and the North Korean people, which I know is very hard to do. But I wish people could try to have that perspective. In many ways, the North Korean people are just like other people—they fall in love, they have their own culture. Once you remove the regime, they’re not so different.

There’s some nostalgia. I’ve been in South Korea for three years, and seeing [North Korean Olympic attendees] on TV, there is an element of homesickness. I still think North Korea is in some ways a beautiful place, and I still identify myself closer to North Korean than South Korean because I spent 26 years of my life in the North. I don’t know if that will gradually change, sometimes I ask myself if it needs to.

I left to go back to Seoul feeling conflicted about it all. Kim [Jong-Un] clearly tried to create an environment for dialogue and also brighten up the world’s perception of the North at these Games, I don’t know if he was successful. Maybe it’s fifty-fifty.


US imposes yet more North Korea sanctions

The United States said on Friday it was imposing its largest package of sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear missile program, and President Donald Trump warned of a “phase two” that could be “very, very unfortunate for the world” if the steps did not work.

The U.S. Treasury sanctions’ targets include a Taiwanese passport holder, as well as shipping and energy firms in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. The actions block assets held by the firms and individuals in the United States and prohibit U.S. citizens from dealing with them. The U.S. Treasury said the sanctions were designed to disrupt North Korean shipping and trading companies and vessels and further isolate Pyongyang.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the new sanctions would help prevent North Korea from skirting restrictions on trade in coal and other fuel through “evasive maritime activities.” Last month three Western European intelligence sources told Reuters that North Korea shipped coal to Russia last year and that it was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of U.N. sanctions.

Mnuchin said the number of sanctions steps taken by the United States against Pyongyang since 2005 was now 450, with approximately half imposed in the last year.

“The only thing missing here today is action against Chinese banks,” Jonathan Shanzer of the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies said. “We know they continue to undermine our efforts to isolate North Korea.”


North Korea’s propaganda victory at the Winter Olympics

The Olympics has been a PR dream come true for the murderous Kim Jong Un dictatorship. South Korea’s Moon administration claims to be using the games to foster goodwill, but the reality is that the Hermit Kingdom has taken this opportunity to stage one of history’s great whitewashing operations, where the breathless focus is on the fashion style of the Dear Leader’s sister instead of his forced labor camps and police state.

North Korea is the worst human rights violator on our planet. Its leaders — including the smiling Kim Yo Jong — are active participants in a totalitarian state that starves, abuses and brainwashes millions of people. The Kim regime keeps tight control over its population through outright violent oppression, but also relies heavily on an elaborate system of censorship, propaganda and indoctrination. North Koreans grow up hearing creation myths about their godlike rulers alongside a warped version of history that places North Korea as both the strongest and most noble nation in the world, and as a victim of “American bastards.” According to Jieun Baek, author of “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution,” “children learn to add and subtract by counting dead American soldiers” and learn to use rifles “in case the ‘Yankee imperialists’ attack.”

The brainwashing works. As defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park explains, before she decided to defect, she “was not aware, like a fish is not aware of water. North Koreans are abducted at birth, so they do not know the concept of freedom or human rights. They do not know that they are slaves.”

For decades, the regime has tried to maintain a strict censorship of all foreign news, books, movies, TV shows and more, and imposes severe punishments on anyone found consuming forbidden media. Individuals found consuming outside media can face long stints in the country’s reeducation centers, where they are worked nearly to death, tortured and abused by guards and underfed to the point of eating locusts and rats found on prison floors. In some cases, those caught with prohibited media are executed and, typically, such events are done in broad daylight with the local population forced to attend.

[From Washington Post Opinion piece by Garry Kasparov]

Secret meeting between US and North Korea canceled

When US Vice President Pence departed for a five-day, two-country swing through Asia earlier this month an agreement was in place for a secret meeting with North Korean officials, while in South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

But on Feb. 10, less than two hours before Pence and his team were to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence’s office.

The North Korean decision to withdraw from the meeting came after Pence used his trip to denounce the North’s nuclear ambitions and announce the “toughest and most aggressive” sanctions yet against the regime, while also taking steps to further solidify the U.S. alliance with Japan and South Korea.

The cancellation also came as Kim Jong Un, through his sister, invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang to begin talks “soon” — a development that would be likely to cause consternation in Washington.

The vice president’s office promoted his trip as an effort to combat what it said was North Korea’s plan to use the Winter Games for propaganda purposes and portrayed the cancellation of the meeting as evidence his mission was a success.

The meeting — which Pence had coyly teased en route to Asia, saying, “We’ll see what happens” — had been two weeks in the making. It began to take shape when the CIA got word that the North Koreans wanted to meet with Pence when he was on the Korean Peninsula, according to a senior White House official. A second official said the initiative for the meeting came from South Korea, which acted as an intermediary to set up the meeting.

[The Washington Post]

North Korean defector in the South arrested for sending 130 tons of grain north

South Korean authorities have arrested a North Korean defector who fled the country in 2011 …for sending 130 tons of rice back to Pyongyang.

The 49-year-old defector was indicted on suspicion of violating the country’s National Security Law and attempting to return to North Korea, which is illegal under South Korean law. According to the authorities, the woman arranged to send two deliveries of 65 tons of rice each to North Korea’s State Security Ministry with the help of a Chinese broker, worth a total of 105 million won ($98,700).

The woman is also accused of sending an additional 80 million won ($75,200) to the broker in preparation for new rice deliveries shortly before she was arrested by the authorities in Suwon, a city in northwestern South Korea approximately 20 miles south of the capital, Seoul.

The defector told the authorities she made contact with the regime because she wanted to go back home to her son and was sending the rice as a sign of loyalty to North Korea in order to avoid being punished for defecting. The woman ran a private business in South Korea but sold her house and personal belongings in preparation for her return to the North, local media reported.

North Korean defector Kim Ryen Hui has staged various public demonstrations of her wish to return to Pyongyang, disrupting a U.N. press conference organized in Seoul in December to accuse South Korea of violating her human rights. The 47-year-old appeared at a border crossing last week as the North Korean art troupe that performed in the South for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was heading back. She waved a united Korean Peninsula flag and told the puzzled performers of her desire to go home as government officials blocked her from their view.